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LAS VEGAS — UFC president Dana White arrived in the media tent a few moments before Curtis Blaydes on June 20. White was there to provide comments on the card that was headlined by Blaydes’ unanimous decision victory over Alexander Volkov.
The show was stolen by a featherweight bout in the co-main event, when Josh Emmett outslugged Shane Burgos in a memorable brawl.
Blaydes’ win over Volkov was clear, but certainly less aesthetically pleasing. The first question White was asked at the news conference was about Blaydes’ win over Volkov. Not shockingly, White did not hold back.
“Yeah, he’s next in line [after Francis Ngannou for a heavyweight title shot],” White said. “But with his performance tonight and his cardio, I wouldn’t wait around. I’d stay active. I’d stay busy. I like Curtis Blaydes, but Curtis Blaydes has the wrong attitude as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have anything against the kid at all, but when you talk s--- like he talked it this week, man, you better come in and whip somebody’s ass when you talk s--- like that.
“When you talk the s--- that he talked and performed like he performed tonight, you look stupid.”
By the time he found his way to the dais, news of White’s opinion had gotten back to Blaydes. And while it’s never fun to be criticized by your boss, it was liberating in a way for Blaydes.
In pro wrestling, they call what Blaydes did a heel turn. He basically said he didn’t care what White or the fans thought and was going to do what he believed was in his best interests.
He fights Derrick Lewis on Saturday at Apex in his first bout since then, and he’s no less determined to do things his way than he was in June. He was a national junior college wrestling champion as a sophomore and plans to rely on his wrestling to help him against the hard-hitting Lewis.
“One of the best things for me about what happened then is that now, I don’t give a damn about what anybody says,” Blaydes told Yahoo Sports. “I have a family to provide for and whatever I have to do to accomplish that, that’s what I’m going to do. If that doesn’t fit into people’s idea of how I should fight, that’s not my problem.”
He said that as he thought about White’s critique, he realized that he could go out and swing for the fences. Blaydes has good hands, as he proved in his Jan. 25 TKO of Junior dos Santos, but going toe-to-toe is a risky strategy because all it takes is one counter punch to change the course of the fight.
And that is important to Blaydes for another reason: MMA fighters get a base amount to show and another amount if they win. Why fight a risky style, he asked himself, if doing so would make it likelier he would lose and get a significantly smaller purse.
The win bonuses guarantee that it is truly the embodiment of prizefighting, but being in exciting fights doesn’t put food on the table or pay the mortgage.
“I could go out there like a madman and swing and punch and give people the bloody, crazy fight they want,” he said. “But that’s not the best way for me to fight given my skills. And if I fight that way and people love it and I lose, are they going to pay my bills when I get half of my money? Are they going to care about me when I’m going to the hospital to get my brain checked?
“These people need to think about their jobs. If they go to work and they got half of the money for showing up and then they got the other half if they did all of these risky things, what would they think?”
Blaydes is 14-2, with his only two losses to Ngannou, so the way he’s fighting works. He has significant wins over dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt and Aleksei Oleinik.
With a young family, he’s not going to put his long-term health at risk in an effort to be an internet hero.
“I think a lot of people think that MMA fighters are meatheads who don’t care about their bodies,” Blaydes said. “They think we don’t care about getting CTE and being able to live a long and healthy life. I don’t know about anyone else, I do care. I don’t want to get CTE. I want to have a healthy brain.
“I want to remember my daughter’s birthday when she’s 18. I don’t want to forget it. I don’t want to forget her name. I don’t want to forget where I put my car keys every day. The best way for me to do that is to protect myself. The best way to protect myself in the Octagon is simple: If I put you on your butt, you can’t hit me hard. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
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